Delfast founder and CEO Daniel Tonkopi talks about electrical bicycles in Ukraine and distant administration throughout a navy invasion.
When Daniel Tonkopi based Delfast in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2014, he had no intention of constructing and promoting electrical bicycles. He additionally by no means anticipated that his firm can be caught up in a struggle with Russia or that his bicycles would grow to be navy automobiles. However on the age of 43, Tonkopi, initially from Almaty, Kazakhstan, now finds himself residing in Los Angeles, operating an electrical bicycle firm and remotely managing dozens of staff residing in a struggle zone. In Might, Tonkopi made headlines when he shared footage on Fb of Ukrainian fighters utilizing Delfast bicycles to hold anti-tank weapons in entrance, demonstrating one other use case for electrified two-wheeled automobiles.
“Our bikes are nonetheless working, regardless of the harm,” he informed me in a video name earlier this month.
Tonkopi moved to Ukraine from Kazakhstan in 2009. He was working for KazMunayGas, a state-owned oil and gasoline firm, as a challenge supervisor for gasoline station building, when he determined to maneuver to Kyiv to strive his hand as an entrepreneur. The vogue on the time was to construct clones of profitable American tech firms, so Tonkopi made a model of Yelp for Japanese Europe. It was, after his recognition, a failure, in addition to just a few makes an attempt that adopted. “I turned an knowledgeable in all of the attainable errors and the way to not startup,” he says.
Delfast began as an hour-long supply firm. (The title is brief for “quick supply.”) Tonkopi wished to make use of electrical bikes for enterprise as a result of they had been low-cost, quick, zero-emission, and did not require couriers to journey for hours. When he could not discover bikes with sufficient battery life to run all day, he determined to attempt to construct his personal. Frankenstein’s creations turned their heads. “I heard lots of questions from random individuals. “Hey, are you promoting these bikes?” He says. So in 2017, Delfast launched a crowdfunding marketing campaign, raised $ 165,000 and bought 44 electrical bikes.
For the following three years, Delfast operated each as a courier firm and as a web-based retailer for electrical bicycles. In 2020, just a few days after the Covid blockade started, Tonkopi bought the supply enterprise to a meat vendor on to the Ukrainian shopper. Delfast now sells a single electrical bike mannequin, Prime three.zero, via its web site and a small community of impartial bike outlets. It has a prime pace of 50 miles per hour, a variety of as much as 200 miles and a sticker value of $ 6,999. Final 12 months, Delfast bought about 200 items, most of them to US prospects. To date this 12 months, Tonkopi says, gross sales are tripling.
Final fall, after realizing that 80% of the corporate’s prospects had been in the US, Delfast opened an workplace in Whittier, California, exterior of Los Angeles, the place Tonkopi and some others work. The remaining 30 staff are nonetheless in Ukraine. Tonkopi spoke with Bloomberg about electrical bicycles as weapons, about managing a struggle startup and in regards to the Delfast product pipeline. The dialog has been edited for readability and size. You’ve gotten about 30 individuals in Ukraine. How have you ever managed the workforce because the struggle started? Since February 24, these have been robust weeks, particularly the primary week, after I did not know what was occurring and what to do. We had some monetary reserves, sufficient for 3 months’ wage for all our workers, so we informed everybody, “You do not have to fret, you will have a wage for no matter motive, no less than three months.”
And I provided a few of them help for relocation. I discovered some homes and residences in safer locations. For instance, a girl used to stay in Kherson, a metropolis fully occupied by Russia. At one level, Russian police or navy forces got here to her dwelling. They requested him to point out them his smartphone, laptop computer and so forth. They discovered anti-Russian messages and memes on her telephone. In order that they deleted all the data from her telephone and mentioned, “Okay, now your smartphone can have a brand new life. And you’ll come to our police station tomorrow at 11 am and you should have a brand new life. It was actually scary. She didn’t need to have any new life with Russia. So considered one of our gross sales managers helped her discover a automobile in Kherson and escape. She left for Odessa that evening. Odessa can also be below assault. There isn’t any protected place in Ukraine, however it’s comparatively safer. Are individuals now in a position to do their job? Sure. That was the primary few weeks. Persons are nonetheless residing in bomb shelters. They stay of their residences or homes, however once they hear sirens of air raids, they’ve to enter bomb shelters. It is a fixed bombardment. Each month begins with a Zoom name with everybody, we ask them how they’re, if they’re protected, what is occurring, then we transfer on to our standard enterprise issues.
What’s loopy is that through the struggle, our engineers developed an entire new product. They had been uninterested in sitting within the basement and being afraid, and so they wished to show their vitality and inspiration into one thing new. They usually have created a brand new mannequin for the US market, which we are going to unveil in early August. Do you’ve a reputation for him? Sure, however it’s nonetheless being thought of. It has a smaller battery and a decrease pace than our Prime bike. We’ll do our greatest to make it accessible in order that extra individuals can use it. How did a few of your electrical bikes find yourself within the struggle? When the struggle began, we determined that we’d assist the individuals of Ukraine and donate 5% of all our gross sales income as an organization. And we donated three electrical bikes – two of our Prime three.zero bikes to the Ukrainian navy and a prototype of the volunteer division. They use this prototype for his or her medical workers. Three bicycles are what we had in our amenities originally of the struggle. We ship semi-assembled elements and bicycles from China to California. And now we have our inventory right here in Los Angeles. We solely have a analysis and improvement middle in Ukraine. I did not have many spare elements in Kyiv.
The military adjusted them. They made an additional trunk within the again to carry the rocket launchers. They are saying it really works properly. In line with their suggestions, our bike is maneuverable, quiet and can’t be noticed by warmth sensors. To allow them to get to a place, do every part they must do, after which depart instantly with out being observed. They’ve a tough scenario. Russian troops are attacking our military. It is sizzling. It is highly regarded. Our Ukrainian troopers typically return wounded and with some harm to vehicles and automobiles. Our bikes are nonetheless working, regardless of the harm. It really works properly within the warmest circumstances. And now you are elevating funds? Sure, a couple of 12 months in the past, in early 2021, we did a spherical of fairness financing on fundable.com. The individuals of Ukraine believed in our firm. 300 of them invested. The common verify was about $ 10,000. So I raised $ three.four million. This helped us to arrange our analysis and improvement middle in Ukraine, transfer our headquarters to California, and create a inventory of bicycles. Now we have invested closely in our provide chain, in logistics, and now we have lowered supply time from 4 months, one 12 months in the past, to 2 weeks at this time.
Then we launched a collection A danger spherical earlier this 12 months. We stopped on the finish of February, however now we’re again to it. The purpose of the spherical is $ 20 million. I acquired $ 2 million and proper now I am negotiating for one more $ 5 million. Now we have a product, now we have a product plan, now we have a platform, now we have proprietary applied sciences, now we have gross sales and we develop, even with out overseas funding. We want funding to speed up progress. We develop 3x. We need to develop 20 occasions. I am constructing a billion-dollar firm right here.